The Sunday Mail
President E.D. Mnangagwa
Helping our Africa
Last Wednesday, on November 16, 2022, I had the rare honour to bid farewell to a team of four young Zimbabwean doctors who left for the sister Republic of Kenya. They are set to do voluntary cleft lip and cleft palate surgery in that country.
Cleft lip and palate disorders
Cleft lip and cleft palate are congenital disorders where an infant is born with separations or splits in the lip and mouth. If left unattended, these disorders often cause problems with eating, drinking and speech, and are a source of stigma as the affected child grows up with that condition. Here in Zimbabwe, I am told we pick up to 500 such cases yearly. Corrective surgery is usually done as early as three months after birth, up to teenage years. It is a delicate procedure calling for specialised, multidisciplinary medical intervention.
Zimbabwe’s medical team
The Zimbabwean team comprises a senior surgeon, Dr Manana, two anaesthetic specialists, Dr Marange and Dr Kasule, and the team leader, Dr Danda. The team went under the umbrella of a humanitarian organisation called Love Without Reason, and will work on Kenyan children for just under a week. We wish them well in this worthy effort.
We still have a national backlog
I have said Zimbabwe picks about 500 such cases each year. We do corrective surgery on slightly over 100 such cases yearly. This means we carry forward more than 300 cases each year. We are still far from encompassing the problem. The good thing is that we now have corrective capacity and competence in the country, something many African nations are yet to have. I am very happy there is this outward, Pan-African outlook by our young medical professionals.
Investing more in the health sector
The Second Republic continues to invest in the country’s health sector. Barely a month ago, I officially opened a massive warehouse for stocking drugs for our Nation. This facility, built through a Chinese grant, is for National Pharmaceutical Company, (NatPharm). It is a facility which now allows us to stock medicines and other sensitive accessories we need in all our health facilities countrywide. The coming budget, coupled with support from our international partners, should see us fully stocking the facility, thereby improving availability of medicines and accessories in the country. This is a giant step forward for our Nation.
Second best in SADC
Also a few weeks ago, I officially opened the Great Zimbabwe University Medical School, bringing to four the medical schools we now have in the country. These are at Universities of Zimbabwe (UZ), National University of Science and Technology (NUST), Midlands State University (MSU), and now the Great Zimbabwe University Medical School. In our Southern African region, we now rank second to South Africa, which has 10 such schools of medicine. Our goal is to have as many training facilities for medical staff as would ensure that our doctor-to-patient ratio continues to improve all the time. We are still far from that important goal.
Doctor-to-patient ratio remains low
The number of medical practitioners in the country remains unsatisfactorily low. I am told we have 3 777 registered medical practitioners in the country. Of this number, 1 982 are General Medical Officers; 713 are specialists; 250 are dentists, while 627 are interns. We have to boost our medical corps. I am aware that such a goal takes time, and a lot more than just the availability of training facilities. We have to competitively reward our doctors in order to guarantee greater staff retention in our hospitals, and in the country. Many of our doctors continue to leave the country for greener pastures; they are hotly sought after, particularly in the rich West, because of our superior training facilities. The Second Republic has to treat in-country medical staff retention as a foremost national goal. More visible and substantive steps will be taken in the near future to improve the working conditions for our medical staff.
Equipping and modernising our hospitals
In my interaction with this specialised team which left for Kenya, the need to equip and modernise our hospitals and clinics was underscored.
At the end of the day, a doctor is as good as the equipment and machinery available to them, in the discharge of their work, which invariably is delicate and life-saving. The Second Republic is fully aware of this area of great concern and need, and will be making substantial provisions towards meeting this pressing need, starting with this coming budget. This is especially important as we scale up healthcare giving in the direction of greater specialisation.
Greater access to health
As I write, more and more rural health facilities are being built across the country through Devolution Funds. This programme will continue until every village and community is within reach of a medical facility, for basic health provisioning. Alongside this thrust, we continue to invest in district hospitals until the goal of a fully functional hospital for each district is met. I also wish to see more and more of mobile healthcare services reaching remote communities. We have done that in the past, allowing mobile clinics manned by specialist doctors to reach such historically disadvantaged communities for superior care. As in other sectors, no person and no community should be left behind.
Zimbabwe as a centre of excellence
The four young doctors I met last week shared their vision to start a training programme on cleft lip and cleft palate surgery for both local medical officers and for those drawn from sister African countries. I share this important vision, which Government will support. We must strive to become a regional centre of excellence when it comes to specialised training and care. Time must come when Zimbabwe becomes the preferred destination for medical tourism. This calls for even bigger, focused quality investments in manpower, machinery, medicines and facilities.
Free land for medical investments
There is growing demand for land on which to set up medical facilities. This demand has been coming especially from our citizens in the Diaspora wishing to invest back home. They want land on which to set up all sorts of facilities, including those for research and further specialised training. It is their own way of giving back to our society. Accordingly, I am directing Government to identify suitable land across the country on which to develop medical parks. Land should be free to those wishing to set up shop or training facilities. Only that way can we attract more investments in the medical sector.
Spreading our Hunhu/Ubuntu philosophy
Zimbabwe is a Pan-African country. Our focus is outward, towards sister African countries on our continent. These countries stood by us during our days of struggle. We must give back; we must stand by our continent, starting with our immediate region, SADC.
It is this belief and conviction which motivated us to share vaccines with our neighbours at the height of Covid-19 pandemic; indeed, the same conviction which motivated us to donate medical oxygen and personal protection equipment, PPEs, once we developed capacity to manufacture both. We stand ready to share our facilities with our brothers and sisters from countries within our neighbourhood, particularly from communities which are contiguous to us. This is our spirit of HUNHU, UBUNTU, which must be at the heart of our policies as an African country, born of African struggles.
Beating sanctions in health
Of course, our capacity to extend our helping hand to the rest of Africa could be enhanced if we did not have illegal sanctions that have become such an undeserved and prolonged millstone. Still, we will do our best, including sharing expertise and personnel with other African countries. Africa is more deserving of our expertise than old Western nations to which we continue to lose thousands of experts through medical brain drain. Together, collaboratively, we can do more for our continent.
Unequal access to personnel, finances
World Health Organisation, WHO, says Africa bears more than 24 percent of the global burden of disease, yet it has access to only 3 percent of global health workers, and less than 1 percent of the world’s financial resources. Because of this dire state of affairs, about 44 percent of WHO member states, mostly from Africa, have less than one doctor per 1 000 population. Yet the medical brain drain still plays out in such dire circumstances of need on our continent!
Extending Hippocratic Oath
Our Nation has to applaud and celebrate our four doctors for living true to the Hippocratic Oath, and for raising Zimbabwe’s flag high through deeds which are clearly Pan-African. Thank you Zimbabwe Medical Team!